Getting excited yet? You should be!
Up until now, you've seen the company truck and, possibly, a trailer heavily logo'd with the company name. The aircraft for your morning adventure is still packed away. Yes, it all fits in the trailer. So, it goes without saying.... "Some assembly required!"
Each component previously discussed needs to be attached, installed, and secured together to create the full aircraft. The basket will be unloaded and burners mounted atop with fuel lines attached to tanks store within the basket. Flight electronics will also be secured to one of the burner frame upright supports. The basket will, then, be laid on its side in the down-wind direction.
Next, the envelope will be pulled out and placed downwind of the basket. You will see that the envelop is stored in a large canvas bag. The crew will remove a section of the envelope and begin attaching it to the burner frame. Also, the inflation fan (essentially a lawn mower engine attached to a propeller and turned horizontally) is put in place next to the basket so that it can blow air directly into the 'mouth' of the balloon.
Watch Out! There will also be a tether line will be attached between the basket and the balloon truck. This is to prevent the balloon taking off before we are ready! Don't step over this during the inflation process as this could go taut and cause injury. Especially to us guys!
You may be a passenger, but, the crew will need your help to get the balloon in the air. The crew will need 2 individuals to hold the mouth of the balloon open to allow the fan to push air at 60MPH in to the envelope. This is a simple job and makes for great pictures! Feel free to swap in and out to get that perfect action shot. The crew or pilot will provide you with some direction here, as well.
Once the fan is powered on (called Cold Inflation), the crew chief and pilot will pull the large canvas bag to dump out the remainder of the envelope. They will continue to work at the top end of the envelope to complete the assembly affixing the parachute top to the rest of the envelope. This is the final task that ensures the heat is retained inside the envelope. Once that has been completed, you won't see the crew chief until the balloon stands up. However, you will see the pilot at the basket soon enough. As you are holding the mouth of the balloon open, you may feel the envelope being tugged a bit, pulling you around a bit. Do not worry - the pilot is performing a final pre-flight inspection (remember, safety first!) while he pulls fabric from underneath the envelope.
While your pilot is busy making final adjustments in preparation for flight, your crew chief is managing the crown line. This is a rope that extends from the top of the balloon down to the basket. In this instance, the crew chief has extended that line beyond the balloon in the direction of travel. Applying such pressure elongates the fabric to allow it to be inflated with the fan. Once the burners are powered, the additional weight on the crown line prevents the hot air inside of the envelope from lifting the fabric prematurely. This would cause the mouth of the balloon to be constricted and close off, preventing the pilot from inflating further and, therefore, a delay in flight or, in a much worse scenario, damage to the balloon. The crew chief will allow the balloon to rise once the proper shape has been formed. On a frosty morning, like the picture to the left, the crew chief can ski across the grass. We gotta have some fun, too!
This is the term used by pilots and crew to indicate the burners are about to be lit and hot air inflation started. It all begins with a thumbs-up signal between pilot and crew chief managing the crown line - the final check and confirmation we are ready for some fire! The pilot will instruct those holding the mouth to release their grip and back away - but get your camera ready, this makes for some great pictures! He will ignite the pilot light on the burner and give everyone a fair warning ... then will hit the burners. From this point, it will only take about 30 seconds to stand the balloon up.
Just as the balloon is coming upright, you may hear the pilot yell "get in!" Take no offense to his tone of voice and simply heed the instructions - now is the time to get into the basket. As the balloon is being super heated, the balloon may want to bounce into the air or start to lift off. The pilot will need additional ballast to keep the balloon firmly situated on the ground. I know you want to get a picture, but, please... GET IN!
There is no graceful method of getting into a hot air balloon basket. Most baskets will have holes on the sides you can use to climb in. Smaller baskets may only have one, larger will have multiple. Use these to your advantage. The quicker you can do this, the more stable the balloon will be for lift-off.
Prepare for Lift-Off....
For the next hour, this will be your view straight up into the envelope. You are almost ready to fly. While you are still solidly planted on mother Earth, this is a great opportunity for pictures! Your crew chief will be available to take a few pictures...so, if you have one, hand it out to the crew for a quick snapshot. No matter if its a cheap phone or an expensive DSLR - most crew chiefs will hand it right back. After all, pawn shops aren't typically open this early in the morning, anyway!
Your pilot will perform one last safety check and begin the launch process. In order to provide sufficient lift, the temperature must get about 100 degrees hotter than the current ambient temperature. The burners will make easy work of this, but, it will get hot inside the basket for a bit. You brought a hat, right?
Before long, you will start seeing a bit of movement...outside of the basket. That's right, you are flying! As the balloon begins to ascend, you will notice the ground moving away...but, your mind will tell you that nothing has changed - you will hardly notice that you are flying! Keep that camera handy, you will need it! Most of all....enjoy your flight!